During a TEDx talk in February 2013, homeschooled 13-year-old Logan LaPlante coined the term “hackschooling”. As its website explains,
“The concept is that education, like everything else, is open to being hacked or improved, not just by working within the current system, but by going outside the educational establishment to find better ways to accomplish the same goals.” (Source)
Since the 1980’s video games have been recognized to have great potential as a form of hackschooling (even though this well predated the term). But although people appreciate progressive methods of schooling, in truth most would not support its widespread implementation, or even its practice in their children’s’ schools. Video games in the worlds of parenting and education have a reputation to be violent and time-wasting , but limiting the potential of video games to recreation is extremely outdated. It is rapidly becoming apparent that the practices of both developing and interacting with video games require dynamic thinking, action, and learning that present unimaginable potential for educational purposes. This repurposing of video games seems impractical and too progressive to many, but their immense potential as educational tools is quite obvious. Reading a book on how to ride a bike will never teach you as much as riding it would.
Video game development is a recurring method of teaching and practicing concepts in Computer Science mainly due to one reason: interaction. Constructing a game (or anything) from scratch proves to make for a highly enhanced learning process. The interaction with and direct observation of each building block that forms the game creates an inimitable well-rounded learning experience. Through this type of learning, students are able to thoroughly understand concepts through understanding each of its parts and their relationships to one another.
For this reason, the hack of video games as educational tools in classrooms may be more supported and more realistic than we had thought. Especially in the past 10 years, universities around the United States have been developing games to engage and challenge middle school students in subjects such as math, engineering, science and languages. Researchers at the University of Connecticut developed Operation LAPIS, an RPG game that immerses the player in Roman civilization and presenting them with situations that require them to read and respond to clues in Latin in order to maneuver the game through the view of the character.
Screenshot from Operation LAPIS (Source)
In 2009 Northeastern University developed Geckoman, a video game that aims to teach students the difficult concepts of nanotechnology through game levels that illustrate each nanoscopic scale. Allowing students to have an interactive worldview representation of such concepts creates a well-rounded learning experience that cannot be imitated through textbook learning.
The most successful and popular of these university-developed educational video games is Scratch, devleoped by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scratch is an interactive programing language that combines these ideas of enhanced learning through development of and interaction with video games. Scratch is a simplified computer programming language that allows users to visualize and build experiments in math, science, and computer science projects using existing scripts of code rather than by forming scripts with text. The programming language has grown extremely popular due to its innovative philosophy of flexibility, sociability, and creativity in computer code, with over 1.3 million registered users as of January 2013. However, its true success in the academic world is due to Scratch’s interactive teaching method. As MIT describes,
“The system is always live, with no run/edit switch, so commands or code snippets can be run with a click, and graphical feedback shows execution. Variables and lists have concrete visualizations, so the effect of data operations can be seen immediately. These features support and reward discovery through tinkering.” (Source)
Users are able to observe the actions and consequences of each piece of code and its connection to another, and therefore thoroughly understand the process and concept of what they are learning.
Screenshot of a Scratch interface (Source)
Scratch’s design and success prove the enriched learning that video games unlock in education. This is not at all similar to other forms of media that can be educational, such as television or audio. The visual understanding and the interaction provided by video games hacks learning in a way that is too powerful to remain out of classrooms.